Cecil Castellucci, author of the forthcoming novel First Day on Earth as well as several other books, was one of a group of fans who spent six weeks camping out in line for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. She also sang about Star Wars in the indy-rock band Nerdy Girl, and collected damaged Star Wars action figures.
In this essay, she writes about her (sometimes tragic) love affair with George Lucas' creation.
Star Wars Episode IV - A Nerd is Born
When I fell. I fell hard. I fell true. And I fell in love. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I was born on the day that I saw Star Wars.
I have told this story, one million times before, so skip ahead if you need to. In 1977 I went to go see Star Wars with my Dad. He bought me a program, which I still have. And when (spoiler ahead!) Darth Vader went spinning off at the end of the movie when the Death Star blew up, I knew with certainty that there was going to be another movie.
It was the most exciting thought that I had ever had. Another movie!
It seems obvious to you and me now, but I was seven at the time and it was the first time I realized that there could be a continuation of stories. More than that, it was the first time I realized that it would be someone's job to write that story. And so it was that moment, that very moment, where I fell in love. Because I knew that I wanted to grow up and tell stories.
That summer I made my father take me to see Star Wars every single chance he could. Even when we went to Europe that summer. I saw it in French. I saw it with Flemish subtitles. I think I even saw it in Italian. I saw it so many times that I could recite everyone's parts. (By the way, I watched the movie again last night, and I still can say almost every line by heart.)
Of course I believed it was my destiny to write the next Star Wars movie. I wrote many versions of it in my head. I was the princess that Luke loved. I was either Leia or a new princess that I had made up.
Yes, it's true. At seven, I loved Luke.
How can you blame the seven year old me for loving Luke? You cannot. Luke is the good boy that any seven year old would fall in love with. He's blonde and kind of milquetoast. He's the star of the movie. He's appropriate. He's not rough, or dangerous, or greedy, like Han Solo. He's not a walking carpet, like Chewie. He's not made of cold metal, like R2 or Threepio. And he's not evil, like Darth! (Ew!)
Luke was my guy.
But as we all know, inevitably, Luke would bore me.
Episode V – The Empire Has Cool Clothes
Obsessions grow. Crushes fade. But true love lasts. Which one of these things was Star Wars? At the time, I still didn't know. But now, looking back, we can safely say that it was love.
When The Empire Strikes Back came out, I was older. I was just getting boobs and it was clear to me that Han Solo was my man. He was hot. He was dangerous. (He totally shot Greedo first. ) (Screw you George, for ever revising that in the special edition.) He was a scruffy nerf herder. Also, the guy who played him would eventually play Indiana Jones. (Another obsession.)
Fully entrenched in tweendom by the time Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, I had a bedroom wall full of posters of Harrison Ford in every role he was ever in. (Hello, Frisco Kid!) I started a photo album where I cheerfully placed pictures of him from magazines, newspapers, and glossy photos bought at sci fi conventions. (Yes. I just said Sci-fi conventions. I went to them as a tween.) I slept with this photo album under my pillow. (I wanted Harrison/Han/Indiana to enter my dreams.) (I later did this with the play Cyrano de Bergerac) (Another obsession.)
I'm not a crafty person, but I took a sharpie pen and I made a t-shirt that had the titles of my three favorite movies: Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I named my cat Indiana Jones. I wore my hair in Leia buns. Surprisingly, my girlfriends, at the tender age of 12, did not make fun of my love for Star Wars and Harrison Ford. They just chalked up my obsession to being passionate about my chosen field. I had declared to all that would listen that I was going to be a filmmaker. I proved it by getting myself a subscription to American Cinematographer Magazine.
My mother enabled my mad movie crush by dropping me off at matinees of Empire Strikes Back (and later Raiders) where I would go to the first screening and sit there and watch the movie three times in a row. This seemed normal to me. I probably saw each of those movies over 125 times in the movie theater. (Once again, in those days you had to go to the movies. It couldn't come home to you. I was very committed to my love of Star Wars.)
I know what you're thinking. This isn't about Star Wars, this is about Harrison Ford! Patience my little padawan. Patience. This is 100% about Star Wars.
Remember. Love is tricky.
You can understand that I was well prepared to have my mind blown when Return of the Jedi came out. I had signed up for the Official Star Wars Fan Club. I bought a bootleg Revenge of the Jedi t-shirt at a convention. (I still have this bootleg t-shirt.) And my parents let me skip school the day the movie came out, taking me and my brother to a matinee because it was THAT IMPORTANT!!!!
But I didn't like it. I thought maybe something was wrong with me, because I was like, "This movie sucks. Why does it suck?" My brother agreed. He thought it sucked. My mother and father thought it sucked, too. I think we all went to Serendiptity to go get some ice cream sundaes. Because Ice cream is the universal thing to go eat when your love lets you down.
I know, what you're thinking - we can easily blame the Ewoks. But I don't. The Ewoks are not the problem. The lame-ness of the story is. The missing gravitas is. The feeling that it was all on the surface is. I mean, I know. It's deep! Yoda dies! Darth Vader dies! People die! And I don't mean to go all darkside and stuff, but shouldn't it still have been deeper than it was? So that when we got through it and saw Anakin standing next to Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda shimmering that we really felt the grace of his redemption?
I don't know. Maybe it was those stupid Ewoks that ruined it.
I figured, OK. It's time to put away these childish things. Maybe I was just growing up. After all, I was in High School now. I had boys to think about. Ones that I could potentially smooch in real life, not just hang up on a wall and kiss the poster.
Episode VI: The Return of The Nerd
When I left home at 17, I took Star Wars with me. I think that when we go away from home for the first time we want to take something that is truly us, with us. Making good on my declaration that I was going to be a filmmaker, I had gotten into NYU film school, so, when I went to college I took my Star Wars bed sheets with me. Let me give you a little picture of myself at this time. I wore dark vintage cat eye glasses. I wore antique dresses and go go boots. I had pink, black and blonde hair. And I could talk movies with the boys in the cafeteria. You could call me a proto type geek girl.
Eventually, while in college, I would start collecting broken action figures. Darth Vader with cigarette burns. Boba Fett with one arm. Princess Leia with a magic marker blue dress. These things made me cool. They decorated my dorm room and my first apartment, along with the Star Wars bed sheets, my old teddy bear and the strings of Christmas lights.
Eventually I ended up in Montreal, at Concordia Univeristy, where I got a BFA in Film Production. I started a band called Nerdy Girl, because that is what I was. My first release was a ten inch record, it was also called Nerdy Girl. (Download the mp3 here.) The A side was called Luke. The B side was called Leia. On it there was a song that I had written called Nerdy Girl, which was about Star Wars. Here are some of the lyrics.
Nothing to do today
Dad do you have any ideas for me
Can you take me to see that space movie?
I like the man in black
He breathes funny during the Space Attack
Can you take me to see that space movie?
Chorus: Bring the wookie to me!
People would send me Star Wars things to my PO Box. Broken action figures. Chewbacca candles. Topps cards. I was tech savvy and using this new thing called the Internet. I would bid on things on the alt.fan.starwars usegroup. I won myself a Chewbacca Action Figure holder Bandolier. A misfit AT AT spray painted gold. And Yoda pajamas. (Yes. I still have all these things.)
So many years had passed that I had softened. I had forgotten about Return of the Jedi. I think in my mind, the trilogy went like it did on my hand-made sharpie scrawled t-shirt. Star Wars, Empire, Raiders of the Lost Ark. But by this time, I was even willing to fondly remember Return of the Jedi. I had fully embraced and owned the birth of my narrative roots and was very comfortable with my Star Wars nerdery. It was my thing. I might have given up on making movies, but I was singing songs and I was telling stories. I was a Star Wars Nerdy Girl.
Episode I – The Menace of Nostalgia
Just because I grew up didn't mean that the squirmy teenager inside me, the one that was smitten with Han Solo and Star Wars went away. Au contraire! Like everyone else, when the special editions came out, I lined up on the first day to see them. That Greedo shoots first scene stunned me, but I let it slide. I still cheerfully bought a lot of Taco Bell kids meals so that I could get those cool toys. (I still have the millennium falcon gyroscope on my knick knack case.) I went on to see Empire, but I skipped Return of the Jedi. They were bumming me out with their changes. I figured that I would just stick with my true loves. The originals.
When they announced that there was going to be a Star Wars Episode I, I freaked out. I got a cat I named him Obi Wan Kenobi. I mean, this time, I was going to love Obi Wan, right? Totally! He's Obi Wan! And now, he's young! And Hot!
I lined up to see the trailer in front of Meet Joe Black. When I saw that teaser poster of little Anakin with the shadow of Darth Vader behind him, I freaked out again. This movie was going to be the best thing ever! The story of how Darth Vader became Darth Vader! I was in love! Big, beautiful, true love! So much in love that my heart was bursting. I was willing to go crazy for love!
I got wind that a bunch of people were going to camp out in front of the Mann's Chinese theater to wait for tickets to the midnight show. So, I got a tent and I pitched it on the sidewalk (on Lou Rawl's star!) and camped out for 6 weeks.
I know what you are wanting to ask me? "What did you do for all of that time!"
I fell in love, dummy! Big beautiful love with an awesome guy named Kurt! He could quote all of Star Wars, Empire and Raiders of the Lost Ark, too! He played in Indie Rock bands, too! He wanted to be a filmmaker, too! Star Wars had brought us together! Soon, I moved into his tent! The first time we got intimate was in the tent waiting on line for Star Wars Episode One! On Lou Rawls Star! (I think Lou Rawls would have loved that.)
Kurt and I were so certain that the movie was going to be awesome we both got Queen Amidala's symbol tattooed on our arms. So did 25 other people, but it was still romantic! We went to Toys R Us on the night they released the toys and I bought 8 Amidala / Padme dolls. Because yes, even as an adult, I still like toys! I'm not ashamed of it. I am proud! Proud that I like these cool and playful things! And while looking at my toys lovingly in my tent on Hollywood Blvd, all I could think of was that how amazing this movie was going to be. And how Amidala /Padme looked like she was going to kick Leia's butt!
This is important. Because as a girl geek growing up in the 80s, there really weren't that many icons for us girls. I remember wanting to be Han Solo just as much as loving him. And I don't mind that there are Princesses and Queens in space, and I didn't even mind wanting to be one, too. After all, don't I own a t-shirt that says Princess Leia was a Feminist? After all, didn't Princess Leia participate in rescuing herself? But it did always kind of bother me that Princess Leia seemed to only be in the planning room because she was a Princess. Everyone else there was a boy. But now it was different. It was the new millennium and women in Science Ficiton had come a long way. I had my worries though. Because as awesome as Queen Amidala's outfits were, the girl in me was all love that! Want to wear that! I have to say that the adult in my thought that it probably was easier to save the world in a Princess Leia dress than some of Amidala's get ups. But that is another conversation.
Then the night came and when I saw Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I thought I was going to throw up. It was horrible. It was not the movie I had waited an eternity for. No Jedi Mind trick could convince me that it was good. This was a hot mess. (I'm sorry.)
Oh sure, George might say that my expectations were too high. That this was a kids movie. That I couldn't get it. But George is wrong. I got it. I just didn't like it.
My love had disappointed me. Again.
Episode II- the Attack of Mass Hysteria
You'd think that I would stay away. But no. Love is a strong thing. The Force is a strong thing. Faith is a strong thing.
Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith came out and I could not help myself. I went to the midnight shows. I remember thinking that that they were ridiculous. By now my love was finished. Star Wars had betrayed me. Star Wars was just a dalliance that I had in my youth. I turned my back on it.
But despite my rejection. I still slept under that Star Wars comforter. I still had all of my broken action figures displayed in my bathroom on a shelf. And every Christmas to this day, a Princess Leia doll or a Queen Amidala doll (or this year, both!) still play the part of the Christmas Angel on top of my tree. It even still inspired me to my creative core: my first novel, Boy Proof, was about a girl obsessed with a science fiction movie.
But I told everyone that it was over.
"NO MORE STAR WARS," I said. I put a moratorium on star wars gifts.
Of course, no one believed me. They still bought me Star Wars things – all episodes whenever they came across something. Because when you say that you love something, and tattoo part of it on your body, and have loved it with your dear true heart since you were a child, people who know you well get you that thing over and over and over again.
It's a safe bet that getting me anything Star Wars is still a good gift to get me.
Episode III – Revenge of the Nerd Heart
A few years ago, Star Wars Celebration IV was taking place in LA.
I refused to go. I was like, "FORGET YOU STAR WARS! I already told you! I hate you!"
But at the last minute, I could not resist. I bought a weekend pass and went.
I am a sucker for love.
A few things made the whole thing worth it. One, my friend Scott was hosting one of the stages. He was going to interview Billy Dee Williams, Seth Macfarlane and Seth Green and a bunch of other people. Basically, I just hung out with him at his stage because I was little bit like, "Yeah, I'm here, but I'm not really here."
I totally had an attitude problem.
I'd never really watched the Family Guy or Robot Chicken. (At the time this was because I did not have cable, so I barely watched TV. It's not like now, with all the streaming! Then, it was just like not having a television at all.)
But while I had never watched their shows, I sat there transfixed as I watched both the Seths both times they came to the stage that weekend and talked about their Star Wars specials. And let us just say that it is a universal truth that to me, a guy talking intelligently about and making fun of Star Wars (something that they clearly both love), is DEAD SEXY. It makes adult me feel all teenage giddy again. I now have a crush on both of them. (Hello, Seth and Seth, I am a nerdy girl and you are both adorable geniuses!)
Seth and Seth started a fire in me that began to melt my ice planet Hoth of a heart. What rakes they are! (Just my type!)
Then something happened. I walked into this room, heart thawing and stumbled upon the DKE Toys' The Vader Project. There were rows upon rows of Darth Vader helmets but they weren't black. They were pieces of art. They had been given to artists to use as a canvas. (Even one by Tim Biskup! Who does Gama-Go! Another obsession!) These Vader masks were unmasking him.
Everything about Darth Vader was being unpeeled and exposed with every flourish of color. Here was his sweetness, his soul, his conflict, his rage.
And it hit me. I was in love again. And I realized that all of this time, I had loved Darth Vader.
Darth Vader was my true love. He was the thing that had gotten me excited in Star Wars Episode IV. He was the reason I wanted to be a story teller. Him spinning off into space had captured my imagination. I mean, hadn't I even written a song about him? And when I first saw that Episode I poster, the one with a young Anakin Skywalker standing in Darth Vader's shadow, it was the promise the story of how Darth Vader would rise and fall the thing that thrilled me.
When I got home I was perfectly ready to be in love with Star Wars again. I had just gotten Xbox. And I settled down to play Knights of the Old Republic. I had the light saber. I had the force. I was in control of the story. And it was good. It was fun.
Love had returned.
So it was with great surprise when recently, I was at the gourmet cheese store in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and I stood there ordering cheese. It was boring day, and I was thinking about my new book when a woman came up and stood next to me in line so I stepped aside to let her make her order.
That's when I recognized her. It was Queen Amidala.
OK, it wasn't actually Padmé, but it was Natalie Portman.
It was a hot day and I was wearing a short sleeved shirt and suddenly, I was embarrassed. I took my hand and I placed in on my arm to cover up my tattoo. My tattoo of the symbol of Queen Amidala. I did not want her to see me and that tattoo and think that I was obsessed with Star Wars.
I just wanted to be like her, a random girl at the cheese store getting some triple cream fromage from France.
But deep down, this bothered me. Because, I always agreed with that old Smog song - I am Star Wars. Or at least, who I am is made up in large part due to Star Wars and my love affair with it.
Why keep it a secret? Would I have covered it up if it was Carrie Fisher at the cheese store? If my tattoo were a rebel insignia instead? (There are times I wish it was a rebel insignia.)
So, Natalie, consider this essay my full confession and apology.
I know what you'll say, "Why did you hide your tattoo when you saw me? Why didn't you just proudly own your love in the cheese store? I thought you said you loved Star Wars? You meant for all of it. I mean you just said, LOVE HAS RETURNED!"
The truth is, that my love for Star Wars is so complicated and so intricate, that I still don't know how to express it.
And although I love Star Wars with all of my heart, I would have to say that my true love has disappointed me. Betrayed me. Abandoned me. Returned to me. Held me. Hated me. Kissed me. Forgot me. And then came back to me.
And in return, I have loved, hated, rejected, spurned, embraced, defended, given up, returned and accepted it.
My relationship with Star Wars is something that moves and grows and changes, as I do. And that makes it complicated. I can say with certainty that Darth Vader-this complex, hidden, man whose life hinted at terrible things-who intrigued me when I saw The Empire Strikes Back keeps me. (See. We have that in common. Darth Vader.)
For me, Darth Vader is the embodiment of every interesting artistic question I ask. The feeling that I got about Darth Vader in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is what comes bubbling up again when I embark on a new creative project. He is the most thrilling artistic spark in the world.
So, go ahead, Natalie. Ask me the question again: " Do you love Star Wars?"
My answer — I will shout it if I have to — is: YES.
And also, here is my symbol of Queen Amidala tattoo.